Color Formula no.1

I am such a color junkie. I get all giddy when I see a fun and unique color combination. I am also a firm believer that a color combination can make or break a first impression of a cake or party. I feel a simple cake or layout in gorgeous color array offers incredible appeal to the eye while a bad color combination makes even well-executed projects look off.

I would love to start sharing with you some of my favorite color combinations for cakes, cupcakes, paper and parties and how you can achieve them with a basic set of food colors.

A-white-buttercreamwebFor this color fix I chose to tint buttercream. White buttercream is pristine and lovely and definitely has its place but my heart goes pitter-patter when it is kicked up with a dose of color!

A-supplieswebTo get started I portioned out 8 ounces (227 grams) of buttercream into several different bowls. The buttercream I used here is half Foolproof Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) and half Simple Silky Buttercream which has properties almost identical to SMBC.  I mixed it up with tablespoons and had wax paper and toothpicks on hand for when I needed to add less than a full drop of color. For adding miniscule amounts of color, drop the color onto the wax paper and pick up a portion of it with a toothpick.


Here are some things to keep in mind when you are coloring butter heavy buttercreams;

  • high percentages of butter lend a pale ivory hue to the buttercream that can shift color in a golden direction
  • some of the yellow tinge can be corrected with a wee bit of purple or violet color (just a touch on the end of a toothpick) which will act as a color neutralizer
  • white food coloring can be added to brighten the buttercream but this will influence coloration, all colors added will be a shade lighter than if the white was not added
  • butter heavy buttercreams do not like to take up color very well and it is difficult to achieve a super saturated color
  • to achieve a greater degree of saturation a portion of powdered sugar can be added to the buttercream


The picture above illustrates some of these coloring principals. Each of the buttercreams had the same amount and proportions of color added. The buttercream on the left included white food coloring, the middle was the buttercream by itself and the one on the left had a cup of powdered sugar added to the 8 ounces of buttercream. The differences in person were even more striking but some of the color saturation was lost in the photograph.


When I was searching for an appealing color combination I found this beautiful button color palette on Pinterest via Emma Lamb. I thought it would translate beautifully onto cupcakes.


To aid in achieving my target colors I went to the Rit dye website and used their ColoRit Color Formula Guide. They have hundreds of color mixes based on their core color set. These formulas translate well into food color mixes. You made need to tone your colors a little but the formulas will start you in the right direction.

A-color-formula2These are the formulas I used to get to the shown icing colors. I used soft gel paste colors by Americolor and Ateco from their 12 color sets (which are both very similar). Every time I dig into a pot of paste food color with toothpicks I end up with color on my fingers so I prefer to color using dropper bottles for cleanliness sake.

If you are coloring a powdered sugar buttercream, royal icing or fondant use significantly less food color as these mediums will translate the color much more boldly.


Note that the Pale Pink buttercream  is not actually colored itself but is a tone pulled from the Rose Pink. This is a great way to achieve consistent tonal variations or ombre effects.  Simply color one batch icing in a  highly saturated color and add incrementally reduced amounts of the saturated batch to similar portions of white buttercream. For example add 2 ounces, 1.5 ounces, 1 ounce and 0.5 ounce of the intense colored buttercream to four other portions of white buttercream for 5 varied, ombre-ready colors.

I hope you are inspired to create some awesome color combinations! If you would like some color combo inspiration follow my color board on Pinterest where I have over 1,000 fun color inspiration pins.


18 thoughts on “Color Formula no.1”

  1. I’m really enjoying your posts Summer, thank you so much. Colour is so emotive – I often use the Design Seeds website for inspiration 🙂

  2. Wonderful information. Thank you. Can you please tell me where I can find the recipe for the Silky Buttercream you mentioned in this post?

    1. I will get this one up this this weekend! Sorry for mentioning it without a recipe. It’s my cheater buttercream when I am really cramped for time, lazy or don’t want to cook anything 🙂

  3. You mention that you mix 50/50 fool proof Swiss Meringue butter cream and silky simple buttercream, do you have a recipe for the silky simple buttercream?

    1. Guess I’m lazy also! I just noticed someone already asked, I will also be waiting! Lol. I very curious because at work the buttercream we use is top secret and it was mentioned to me that it is the next closest to SMBC.

      1. Now I am curious about your top secret buttercream! Lol 🙂 I will get it up tomorrow after I get it whipped up and photographed. Today I was a cake baking machine so I have some recipes to share soon. Thanks for sticking around 🙂

  4. This is very insightful, I do have an issue with colouring buttercream – I often use SMBC because I prefer the texture to American Buttercream, but I often end up with a yellow-tinted buttercream from the butter.
    Could you offer any suggestions for me?

    1. You can add white food coloring or you can add a small amount of purple/violet to neutralize the yellow tone. There is no perfect solution but those should help 🙂

  5. Hi Summer,

    Love your blog! I’ve been visiting since you launched thanks to Jessica Harris, and I don’t know why it took me so long to subscribe…

    Here’s my question, is there a specific reason why you mixed both buttercreams? I normally make SMBC most of the time but find that kids and some adults don’t appreciate the less sweet frosting, so I’m wondering if this is a sweeter, yet not as sweet as ABC option?

    Thanks for sharing such great posts, and I look forward to the new ones!

    Elizabeth @ elleBakes and E&S Paper Studio

    1. I really just mixed them because I did not have enough SMBC on hand and needed more to work with so I whipped up a quick batch of the Simple Buttercream. The Simple Silky Buttercream has the potential to be sweeter than SMBC. At the low end of the sugar it is similar. It is a great option for kids and cupcakes because you can jack the sweetness up easily with as much powdered sugar as you like but it always stays more palatable that the brain rattling sweetness of ABC. I hope this helps. Thanks for visiting frequently!

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